By Dave Bonollo
Here’s why workouts are like sex and how my Ladder of Workout Awesomeness ™ will ensure you never have a bad workout again.
How many times have you had bad sex? If you consider the alternative of not having sex, even bad sex is still pretty damn good.
Now let me ask you: how many times have you had a bad workout?
Odds are this number is considerably higher. I’d argue it’s more frustrating than not getting any. Don’t lie. You’ve considered quitting the gym after plateauing for a while. I know I have.
Then I go on Instagram and I see someone crushing a PR. It’s almost like everyone in the world is crushing it every day.
What’s A Bad Gym Session?
Before prescribing the cure, let’s first diagnose the disease. What exactly is a bad gym session?
Did you miss a PR?
Was your energy nonexistent?
Were you sucking wind more than usual?
Each of these things can put a damper on a pretty sweet gym session. Put them together and you might as well pack it up and consider the day a waste.
The truth is you can’t kill it every day in the gym; some days are just going to suck.
Acceptance is the first step. The next step is to define what a good workout is.
Hitting a PR? Lifting more than last time? Never-ending energy?
If these were the only criteria for a good workout, I’d only have two or three awesome workouts a month. That wouldn’t have been enough to keep me working out hard for more than ten years.
An awesome workout and a bad workout, like everything else, are based on perception and perspective.
These days, I have only awesome workouts. I don’t hit a PR every day, and that includes when I was recovering from back surgery hoisting those hefty 25’s.
I chose to look at my workouts like sex. Even a bad workout is better than no workout.
PR or Bust?
Using PRs is the obvious go-to for progress checking. It’s pretty badass when you push yourself further than you have ever gone before.
It’s also one of the hardest to achieve. It’s like trying to score an 80-yard touchdown every carry. You need to lay down some two-to-three-yard gains to set up that 80-yarder.
When you start working out you, racking up PR’s is easy. I mean, it’s easy since your previous PR was what? Zero? Don’t get me wrong. Focusing on PRs is a good way to stay motivated in the beginning, but it shouldn’t be the basis of an awesome workout once you have been lifting for awhile.
If you can hit a PR once or twice a month, then you’re trending in the right direction.
And that doesn’t have to be a 1-rep PR. That could be a 5-rep PR or a 10-rep PR. Any progress is good progress.
Getting frustrated with your progress at the gym doesn’t do anyone any good.
Reframe how you judge the awesomeness of your workout.
Perception is everything. If you have a crappy outlook, then everything will be crappy.
If you look at your workouts in a different light…
…then workouts and sex belong in the same category of awesomeness.
As they should. They were for Arnold.
Here is how to reframe your perception.
The Ladder of Workout Awesomeness™ Explained
If setting PR’s and lifting more than last time is your only criteria for a good workout, I wish you the best. You’re going to be one unhappy mofo.
It all comes down to measuring progress. Did you get better than last time? But there’s more to progress than PRs.
I introduce to you the Ladder of Workout Awesomeness™ (Cue the trumpets.)
The Ladder of Workout Awesomeness™ is:
Personal Record (PR): You’ve accomplished something you’ve never done, like a 405-pound deadlift.
Here’s a simple formula to ramp up to a new max.
Weight: You increased the amount of weight lifted.
Volume: You increased the number of reps.
Frequency: You worked out more often, such as moving from three workouts to four in a week.
Form: You stopped rounding your back on deadlifts. Score!
Did You Show Up? Consistency is the most important factor for transforming your physique.
The Ladder Of Workout Awesomeness Explained
This ladder works like every other ladder on the planet. You start at the bottom.
Did you show up? If you did, you had a good workout. This means you didn’t die last night. This is huge. Most people can’t muster enough motivation to get to the gym. But you did. Someone is looking for a gold star for the day.
Now I know you might be thinking that’s like giving everyone a ribbon for participating but keep in mind that most people don’t participate. They’re too busy thinking of excuses and rationalizing not going to the gym. You didn’t. That’s a huge win.
Form. You can never go wrong when focusing on form. It’s the most important thing keeping you out of the ER. Good form takes practice; lots and lots of practice. Even if you could do a power clean in your sleep, a little practice now and then will help you when you need it most. If you can progress your form, you’ll be doing your future self a huge service.
Frequency. After having good form, did you make it to the gym more this week than last week? Did you do two back workouts in one week? That’s progress. I bet you weren’t crushing two back workouts in a week a few months ago.
Volume. Are you doing 4 sets of 10 now? But isn’t that the weight you were doing 3 set of 10 last week? Adding an extra set or hammering out a few more reps than you did last week is all progress. Revel in it.
Weight. A numerical representation of progress that we showcase on social media. Adding more weight to the bar is tough to do. It doesn’t matter if it is 2 pounds or 50 pounds, progress is progress. Congrats bruh, you are in the upper echelon of awesome gym sessions.
PR. Let the euphoria of the PR wash over you as you post this on social media. Remember it’s not bragging if it’s true. You have reached the pinnacle of gym achievements. If you can lift more than you ever have in any lift, celebrate that shit.
Excitement mounts as you go up the ladder. Personal records may get all the Instagram likes, but don’t forget about the factors that lead to your success.
First, you need to show up. Then, you may need to train more often, use more volume and add weight to the bar before going for personal records.
Once you ingrain these habits you’ll be well on your way to never having bad workouts again.
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